Re: [asa] on miracles

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Tue Mar 17 2009 - 12:54:41 EDT
David (and Don)

I too don't think much of such unlikelihood probability calculations because we really don't have much of a handhold on the real dynamics of the universe.. On the other hand, there are specific and universally applicable interactive influences ("laws" of physics and such) whose implications we cannot know fully, but which we DO know (via chaos and complexity studies) can have profound influences in nuancing the courses of evolutionary developments. Then too, there is that matter of astronomers continually upping there estimate of potentially habitable planets, based only on a presumption of an ambiance for live forms as we know them.

There is an inclination to understand the path of "evolutionary" development to be a trajectory to a particular "us", even as particular persons - thinking very specific in form and function, ...and even name(?) [e.g., a particular Don Winterstein]. That might be accomplished by embodying in creation some sort of computer program that leads very specifically to our kind and us as individuals. I guess this sort of underlying mapped specificity is certainly possible with the God of our understanding, but that does not seem to be quite how the evolutionary development paradigm works. Nor does it seem consonant with the uncertainties and convolutions observed in the actual functioning of Creation. In these workings, the idea of probability is inverted to become opportunity. And in my view, the immensity of the universe ensures BIG opportunity, as well as diversity.

But the front loading of my understanding functions differently than following an AAA TripTik to modern humans as we know them, and me in particular. Instead, one of the things Creation does is to create the conditions such that in some (make that "many" - or "unimaginably many") times and places and circumstances, there are occurrences of localized natural concentrations of increasing organization, structure, or complexity. This is not conforming to a specific map detail, but IS developing within the constraints and influences and (dare I say) potentialities of those "rules" and "boundary conditions" embodied in and characterizing the substance and functioning of our universe. That leaves the door very widely open as to exactly what manner of sentient (assuming that is a primary divine interest) form and functioning develops to meet the divine intent(s?) in Creation. Even on Earth, we have some interesting variations - consider the octopus with its intelligence and problem solving ability, but possessing a widely distributed "brain" that is pretty different from our own.

This, of course, messes a bit with our ego, and our sense of comprising the ultimate and unique objective of God's creative purpose in Creation. But I've grown less uncomfortable with that possibility as my awe of the elegance and integral creativity of Creation continues to grow, and noting that we are located at some distance from the center of the universe!

I'm not arguing the superiority of this understanding, just (I hope) clarifying a bit about this particular view of front loading, and the somewhat non-specific nature of trajectories arising from it.

Regards - JimA [Friend of ASA]

Don Winterstein wrote:
David writes: "...It takes  a universe of 10^80 particles with the type of tuning the universe has in order to get a reasonable probability that there would be even one habitable earth like planet." 
I don't know where you're coming from with this.  We know little about planets outside our solar system.  Given the very large numbers of stars and galaxies I'd guess there's a good chance the number of Earth-like planets in the universe is large. 
"So the challenge is to show that front-loading is congruent with God pre-planning a path to us as individual outcomes.  I don't understand how that works in a front-loaded universe." 
Me neither.  But I'd be comfortable with a loose interpretation of "pre-planning" if I could get comfortable with front loading to begin with. 

----- Original Message -----
From: David Clounch
Sent: Monday, March 16, 2009 4:01 AM
Subject: Fwd: [asa] on miracles

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: David Clounch <>
Date: Mon, Mar 16, 2009 at 7:00 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] on miracles
To: Don Winterstein <>


I disagree that the universe is all that immense.  I think it takes  a universe of 10^80 particles with the type of tuning the universe has in order to get a reasonable probability that there would be even one habitable earth like planet. 

What do I mean by reasonable?  (The term is meaningless without a metric).
I mean the probability is greater than 10^-50.

To make front loading work the universe would have to be vastly larger. Thousands of orders of magnitude larger. 

I also disagree about whats important in terms of what we do now.  If the picture portrayed in the scriptures that God  knew us beforehand as individuals and planned it all out, if this picture  is wrong and that He  has a plan for history is wrong, then it doesn't matter what we do even one tiny little bit. It doesnt even matter that we were here as a race.  

So the challenge is to show that front-loading is congruent with God pre-planning a path to us as individual outcomes.  I don't understand how that works in a front-loaded universe.

Best Regards,
David Clounch

On Mon, Mar 16, 2009 at 12:30 AM, Don Winterstein <> wrote:
Jim writes:  "...The front-loading understanding is that an immense and dynamic creation was brought into being, with the capacity for huge numbers of potential developmental trajectories, one of which is the trajectory of which we are a part."
This version of front loading seems to make God play dice with the universe on a gargantuan scale.  He arranges things so that enormous numbers of worlds come into being in the hope that one of them will turn out to be something he can use.  Seen in this light this scenario becomes more remote than ever from anything I'd consider godly. 
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:59 AM
Subject: Re: [asa] on miracles

[Ooops, I meant to post this. JimA]

If you think "deal with the amount of detail necessary", then you may have missed something about the front-loading concept. For many "front loaders" at least, the understanding is not that an immense clockwork was put into motion to produce exactly what we are, along with our particular contexts, both intentionally quite specific in form and function. That idea embodies the notion of a single trajectory leading to us, a tad presumptuous and limiting in my view, considering the immensity of Creation.

Instead, the front-loading understanding is that an immense and dynamic creation was brought into being, with the capacity for huge numbers of potential developmental trajectories, one of which is the trajectory of which we are a part. My particular view is that the immensity of the universe (by our measure) is a reflection of the intent to have an intrinsic robustness (with a nod to Howard Van Til) embodying enormous numbers of such trajectories. That creates a universe that is unimaginably abundantly fruitful and diverse development-wise, ensuring at least in part the occurrence of certain kinds of outcomes which we can perhaps reasonably conclude includes the likes of ourselves, in whatever ways and extents we manifest a desired outcome of this intentional dynamic and evolving (yeh, I know) universe. As a part of its robustness, or relentless developmental character, this outcome could occur perhaps, or probably, more than once, though these outcomes would almost necessarily not be identical in physical attributes, and would occur non-concurrently along their own unique timelines.

I understand why it is appealing for many reasons to conceptualize a continuously supported/guided creation. At least in the form above, front-loading may leave behind the notion of a certain specificity, a certain uniqueness of purpose and outcome manifest in us, ...or does it?

But I would question why all this focus on the physicality of Creation and its functioning. Is that aspect of Creation really central to what we are in our place in this Creation, or is the heart of the matter how we live and act, and have the capacity to bring about that which transcends this physical context (at least in part). It seems to me that the existence and functioning of the physical world is merely(!?) a backdrop or ambiance, or reaction vessel or "soil", a host if you will for what might rhe ultimate expectation or hope for and in us as we continue to learn and grow where we seem to have sprouted in this incredibly verdant and blessed garden.

JimA [Friend of ASA]

Don Winterstein wrote:
Thanks for your thoughts. 
You wrote:  "...Distinguishing special guidance from front-loading from ordinary providence is not easy." 
As I have such a difficult time taking front-loading seriously, I'd like to ask a question to improve my understanding of how others regard it.  Namely, if God did everything through front-loading, would he have included a nearby supernova (Ordovician extinction) or an asteroid impact (K-T extinction) as an integral part of the process from before the Big Bang? 
I suppose to ask the question is to answer it, but at the same time the thing boggles my mind.  I really hope God doesn't have to deal with the amount of detail necessary to make something like that happen.  If he does, I'm sorry.  That's another reason why I prefer ongoing
"special guidance."  It may not be philosophically or scientifically elegant, but it's so much more compatible with what I perceive as reality, so much easier for mortals to deal with. 
----- Original Message -----
To: asa
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 2:34 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] on miracles

> In other words, while I agree with David C. that God is far more concerned
> with spiritual than physical attributes of his creatures--and his
> predestining may well not have included shapes of individual body
> parts--it's hard for me to imagine any form of marine life or invertebrate
> life becoming capable of satisfying God's larger (presumed) requirement.
> (Well, maybe if dolphins had arms and hands with opposable thumbs.... But
> how would they smelt ores under water? We can go into water and air and
> space; marine animals would have great difficulty doing much of anything out
> of water.)

Just to clarify: I do think that the spiritual aspects are more
important, but did not mean to take a stand either way as to whether
the physical attributes are important.

Theologically, I think all the details were predestined and "what
might have been" may not be a meaningful question, but as far as I
know there's no scientific way to assess those points.

There are various studies that support the idea that only a certain
range of forms and lifestyles are available, and that almost all of
them have been taken by organisms, though of course it's hard to prove
without either a large sample of planets with complex life forms that
arose independently or else the ability to run an experiment for a
billion years or so.

Also, a lot of the features of interest here are very hard to quantify
and analyze.   For example, Gould was quite excited about the fact
that, whereas almost all known post-Cambrian arthropods (and all known
post-Paleozoic ones) fit into a few categories based on the number,
position, and type of appendages (e.g., 0-2 pairs of antennae, which
segment has which mouthparts, 6 or 8 or more legs), many of the
Cambrian ones do not fit into these groups.  On the other hand, most
of the Cambrian arthropods are vaguely shrimplike, such that Walcott
thought that they could fit into the standard groups and only with the
detailed study of the past four decades or so did the anomalies gain
attention.  In contrast, anyone quickly can tell the differences
between a butterfly, a beetle, a bee, and a flea, yet they are all
members of a single major group of insects, the holometabolous orders.
 If the insects had a breathing system that allowed them to get
bigger, they might have been able to develop large brains.

> And while Gould may have exaggerated the randomness of evolution, from what
> I know of it, and most emphatically in acknowledgement of the effects of
> mass extinctions, it seems very likely that starting evolution at different
> times and places would lead to significantly different outcomes. While
> "changing one electron" should not have a major effect (unless it caused a
> crucial mutation!), even a minor extinction event should have a noticeable
> effect. For example, such extinction is likely to give some species a new
> competitive advantage that in turn may lead it to eliminate still other
> species.
> Many authors have pointed out that more than 99% of all species have gone
> extinct. Chances seem very good that, under conditions of randomness and
> without any special guidance, the species God wanted would not have
> survived.
> Don

Of course, distinguishing special guidance from front-loading from
ordinary providence is not easy.

Although mass extinctions are notoriously "random" in being
unpredictable and not necessarily sparing apparently successful groups
(it's hard to think of any organismal feature short of advanced
technological culture that would help avoid an incoming asteroid, for
example), often certain characteristics do seem to convey an
advantage.  Conway Morris's work on the topic is probably the most
extensive available, though of course taking a particular stance
rather than merely summarizing the pros and cons of all options.

A rather odd example comes from Dixon's envisioned world without a K/T
impact.  Although he rejects Dale Russell's intelligent human-like
dinosauroid on ground that evolution is more random than that, a lot
of the things he does have look a whole lot like actual non-human

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"

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